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Old Jul 31, 2009, 11:50 AM   #1
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Default Shoulder bag vs. Backpack, my own journey

Backpack or Shoulder Bag?

As I began to accumulate more and more photo equipment, I began to get somewhat frustrated with every choice I made regarding how to carry and store my gear. So, I’m sharing my own journey and my own frustrations. Certainly, these are not the definitive rules for every one, but they work for me.


I’ve heard the expression; “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. I tried that with photo gear and I found I usually left something at home that I needed. So hers my new rule: Put all your eggs in one basket and be fanatical about watching that one basket.

With the majority of my gear in one bag, I know where just about everything is, I know where it goes and I know where to put it when I’m done with it.

Therefore, when I go anywhere that I think I’ll be taking photos, my whole bag gets in the car with me. At least it’ll be nearby. I hate it when I left something at home that I really need.

I NOW BELIEVE THAT WHEN YOU BUY A BACKPACK OR SHOULDER BAG, YOU REALLY SHOULD BUY AT LEAST ONE SIZE LARGER THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. It is amazing how quickly we all accumulate photo gear. Filters, diffusers, manuals, USB cables, flashes, cleaning solution, mounts, spare batteries, memory cards, on and on the list of accessories you need in addition to your camera and lenses. The more space you have, the happier you’ll be. So “supersize” your order.

UP-SIDE AND DOWN-SIDE TO BACKPACKS. I thought I’d really like a backpack. I’m an adjunct at a local university, teaching economics and stats. I carry my textbook, notebook computer, markers and notes in a backpack and I love it. So it seemed natural for me to use a backpack for my photo gear.

I did a lot of shopping and testing and settled on my backpack for my photo gear. It was fun getting all my stuff out of the several bags and getting all my stuff in one place. I was surprise at how much stuff I had accumulated. Anyway, now that it was all in one bag, I thought I was set.

The down-side for me.

When I tried using it, I was frustrated. And I said to myself, it’ll get better, just give it time, and you’ll get use to it. Well, I never got use to it. Here’s my problem. In order to get to my stuff, I had to either dig thru everything or find a way to lay the backpack down and completely unzip it and open it 100% of the way up. I know it probably sounds petty, but it seem to be a hassle that every time I wanted something, I had to COMPLETELY unzip the back pack the COMPLETELY zip it back up again. I tried digging stuff out, but the padded separators in the backpack were also roadblocks to my digging.

So I tried a different style of backpack that had a top and bottom compartment. That didn’t do much for me either. Therefore, I took it back, told my retailer my problem and they gave me an in-store credit to buy something else.

For me, the down side of a backpack is the hassle of zipping and unzipping the bag every time you want something.

The up-side of the backpack:
1. The backpack makes carrying easier since you’re spreading the weight over both shoulders or maybe even a waist strap. If you’re carrying all your gear, that bag can get heavy. The backpack makes the load seem lighter than if it’s a shoulder bag with only one shoulder strap.

2. Second, face it, backpack look cool.

3. A backpack doesn’t shout to the whole world, “CAMERA GEAR INSIDE, PLEASE STEAL ME”. It’s really easy to have several thousand dollars of gear in a camera bag. The more that you broadcast: “Camera gear inside” the more tempting a target you become. I know some photographers who don’t put the camera strap on the camera it came with. Say you have a band new Canon 1Ds Mark III and you have the strap that says Canon 1Ds Mark III attached to it. Well, that’s really cool, showing off to the world you have an $8,000 camera, no doubt you have $2,000 in lenses too. While showing that off to the good guys, you’ve also shown it to the bad guys too. Therefore, some photographers use a generic strap to keep from advertising expensive gear to thieves. A backpack also looks pretty generic.

4. Lots and lots of choices color, sizes, bells and whistles on backpacks.


With the backpack now the hands of the employees and the store credit firmly in mine, I start looking at shoulder bags. I went breezing past the shoulder bags that look like they could hold a six-pack and some ice. I went to the bags about the size of a suitcase that is the limit of what an airline considers the largest size carry-on suitcase they allow. I want a large bag, but not so large that I have to check it when I get on an airplane.

I wanted a bag that opens from the top and I can look inside and get a good look at all the gear. That means I didn’t want a center zipping bag. I wanted a big flap opening. Then I wanted some outer compartments. Last, a healthy supply of space dividers that I could move around and shape to fit my gear.

I was getting near the end of the bags and then I found the Tenba Large Over the Shoulder bag.
The dimensions of the bag are: 19W x 12H x 10D inches (48.26W x 30.48H x 25.4D cm). It comes in 3 colors combinations: Black/Olive, Silver/Black & Black/Black) I chose the Black/Olive because it looked the least like a camera bag colors to me. It came with an ample supply of dividers outside compartments.

One great feature was that the lid can be secured in two ways. I can use a full zipper that goes ¾ way around the opening or the lid has two snaps that are easily opened and closed. The snaps are not water tight, but they keep gear from falling out when you move the bag and you’re in a hurry.

Once I got it home and used it, I made two “adjustments”. These adjustments included the use of a really good pair of scissors and duct tape.

As good as my new bag was, it still wasn’t quite right, so I made to adjustments that I’m sure Tenba would wince at.

Modification #1: The shoulder strap is a two-part strap. It has a strap that is adjustable for length, then its covered with a pad that can slide up or down in order to get it to fit you. I found that the adjustable strap would get twisted and therefore became quite uncomfortable to carry. The solution was to get the strap adjusted to the right length, get the padding in the right place, then I used duct tape on both ends of the sliding pad to secure it in place. No more twisting. Also, it makes the bag look cheap. Who’d ever put an expensive camera in a bag that needed to be duct taped???.

Modification #2: The dividers didn’t quite work right for my gear. Do I got out my scissors, and cut two of the dividers . The long center divider I half way down from the top and a smaller divider got cut from the bottom half way up. Then the two cuts got fitted together and made the exact size divider needed to store my camera. Think of these cuts as U facing upward and another U facing downward, the first use is parallel to 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock the second is parallel to 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. To cover the raw edges now exposed from the scissors, I sealed them with good ole duct tape.

I am now the happy owner of a shoulder bag that can carry all my gear, doesn’t look like a camera bag and is easy to carry and has straps for my tripod or monopod or both.

If I were to make any further modifications, I am considering getting a double shoulder carry straps for it. I’m going to look at my golf bag that has a double carry strap. I’ll start with that and see if I like it or not.

Anyway, here’s a link to tenba’s website and to the bag I purchased.

Last, I do have one fanny pack for my camera.

My hope in writing this it to help another newbie who is struggling to find the right fit for his or her gear.

Please feel free to comment on how you arrived at your choice of camera bag.

Faithfully Yours,
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Old Jul 31, 2009, 11:58 AM   #2
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Photo #2. Notice the exquisite duct tape on either end of the carry strap. How quaint, how provincial.
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Old Jul 31, 2009, 12:04 PM   #3
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Let me draw your attention to the personalization of the dividers
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Old Jul 31, 2009, 12:07 PM   #4
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Notice the roomy compartments.
The bag normally holds
Canon DSLR,
20-70 lens
70-200 lens
50 mm lens
2 lightsphere diffusers
Memory Card Reader
3 usb cords
2 compact flash cards
camera manual
flash manua
430 Flash
Extra batteries
5 filters
Cleaning solution & cloths
Telephoto extender

And there's still room for more.
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Last edited by FaithfulPastor; Jul 31, 2009 at 12:22 PM.
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Old Jul 31, 2009, 12:15 PM   #5
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One last, larger view of the bag.
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Old Aug 8, 2009, 1:40 PM   #6
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how do you handle this with luggage restrictions?
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Old Aug 9, 2009, 6:36 AM   #7
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This bag is the dimensions of 48.26W x 30.48H x 25.4D cm (in inches its 19W x 12H x 10D), the bag is within spec for most airlines as a carry-on.

I do not check my camera gear with my regular luggage. I've seen this video.


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Old Aug 11, 2009, 9:03 PM   #8
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From recent experience the Lowepro NOVA AW3 meets the second carry-on size requirements. I was still able to carry on my regular suitecase with this bag.

In my NOVA AW3 I usually have my D-SLR with 28 - 300mm attached, small waterproof pocket camera, extra batteries for both cameras, 4 CF and 3 xD cards, cleaning fluid and cloth for lenses; 2 filters, 60GB wolverine storage device, second lens 18 - 70mm, pens and small memo pad, business cards with ID badge attached to bag handle.

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